Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Olde Review: Fires on the Plains

This was part of a series of reviews of the ASUW Film series back in the '70's. Except for some punctuation, I haven't changed anything from the way it was presented, giving the snarky, clueless kid I was back in the '70's a break. Any stray thoughts and updates I've included with the inevitable asterisked post-scripts and, here, it's in the familiar, gray, non-oxidized font.
This is a companion piece to "Forbidden Games" broadcast on KCMU-FM.
This Saturday's ASUW films in 130 Kane at 7:30pm are the last of the Fall series, and they are Rene Clement's Forbidden Games and Kon Ichikawa's Fires on the Plains. They look at the effects of war on children and men.

Fires on the Plains aka "Nobi" (Kon Ichikawa, 1959) Kon Ichikawa's Fires on the Plain is not so gentle as Forbidden Games — it is something that pretty much has to be endured. It deals with the final days of World War II and the ravaged Japanese Army—disorganized, suffering heavy losses, and losing its humanity. The conditions under which they fight are unbearable: disease is rampant, there is no food and no loyalty and no real reason to keep fighting but to survive. Ichikawa focuses on one soldier who, too, is trying to survive, but survive as a moral being, for he is already doomed by tuberculosis.
On his trek through the war-zone, the atrocities he sees become greater, the desperation he sees heightens until there are no sides. The war becomes one to survive, each on his own against everyone else. There is no meaning to the war, and also, no meaning to life for all morality, if it can exist in war, is lost. The ending of Fires is horribly shocking and if your are in no mood, or cannot take such strong stuff, I would advise you to avoid seeing the film. The total effect is somewhat devastating and probably Fires on the Plain is the most excruciating indictment of war and the effect on the men caught up in it.
It is interesting to set this film up against Ichikawa's beautiful The Burmese Harp, which looks at the same section of the war for the Japanese. But one gets the impression that, for Ichikawa, The Burmese Harp didn't express enough of the outrage he felt for war. The Burmese Harp looks positively sublime next to Fires on the Plain, and even though they touch on the same themes, the two films could not be more different. Just looking at stills from Fire is a bit grueling, but this review whets my appetite to see it again, especially in light of another, similar film, Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima, and in the light of encountering The Burmese Harp and appreciating its artistry.
As I tended to do, I truncated these reviews as they were the final ones for the quarter, and I wanted to make room for closing thoughts:
"Forbidden Games" and "Fires on the Plain" are the last films in the Fall ASUW Film Series, and so, too, this is my last movie review. At this point, KCMU is in a state of flux so I have no idea whether I will be back next quarterwith the Winter ASUW Film reviews, or whether we will have film reviews at all. It's pretty much up in the air right now. I would like to see things continue. I have had fun doing them: seeing new films that I might have missed, allowing myself to express my raves and my gripes about them. The toughest thing about writing them is to distill what you want to say about a film into five minutes, two and a half minutes, or even one minute; time is always the biggest enemy in radio work and that proved to be the case not only writing in writing them, but in producing them, as well. I felt that something else had to be included besides my droning on—at least music, maybe an actuality now and then—and that was time-consuming. A few times my reviews would be late (once it just never went on) and again, time—my time—will be the biggest consideration of whether they will continue. But whatever the fate of the reviews next quarter, the films will continue. And this is the line-up for Winter Quarter....

...I would like to thank the DJ's on the air for even playing the damn things: Tim Hunter, Don Zwicker, Steve Flume, John Windus, and Abby Goldman. I would like to thank Diane Jotautus of the Audio-Visual department who put up with me all these weeks, for letting me see the films, and I'd like to thank Rajeeve Gupta of the Film Showings Committee for giving me the opportunity. Lastly, I'd like to thank you, for these reviews do no good unless someone is out there listening. And so, that's the Last Movie Review Show.

I felt compelled to say all that because 1) I felt a great deal of responsibility for these things, and 2) I had enough ego to think anybody gave a rip. I still have trouble compressing my thoughts into a cogent, pithy review that manages to touch on all the issues a film brings up. But, I've also learned that there's just so much of this stuff a person can tolerate (and how long has this one gone on?) The comment about my droning on is on-the-beam—back then, I didn't know how to speak on the radio,it was all just a flat monotone in desperate need of some character. 
The names I remember fondly. Tim Hunter went on to a successful career as "the funny one" on a morning DJ team locally, John Windus ended up working in radio in the Portland area. Everyone else...long-lost, though I still remember them in my mind's eye. I remember after a while I started calling Abby, Abby "Gold-person" as a joke, which she picked up and used on the air. Diane Jotautus was a great supervisor—I worked for her in the A-V Department, and gave it up to concentrate my time doing radio—and more often than not, would watch the films with me to break up the monotony of the office-work. It was also a quick way to check the prints that were showing.
And I did do the Winter series. Some of them have already appeared, and I know there are others...but the notebook I have of all these old reviews doesn't contain them. I've done a thorough search for any loose-leaf versions, but I have yet to find them. It's amazing how long I've kept these things I've written 32 years ago....scratch that, make it nearly 50 years ago.
That's a lot of time spent in the dark.

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